Sometimes a Cougar is just a Cougar

October 16, 2009 § 2 Comments

UT_Cougar19

photo, E.J. Peiker

From the New York Times, “The term cougar raises hackles among women who say the image of a wild animal, however sleek and beautiful, prowling for victims…is demeaning.”

My reaction is the opposite. The human “cougars’ on TV shows and in movies are demeaning to the animal; and as a writer, I’m upset that the word now is so heavily imbued with that mostly ridiculous meaning.

I’m not talking about older women in general. Of course the ones who are appealing are appealing to younger men; this isn’t rocket science. Men may be wary of getting involved with someone older, but we’re all wary of potential lovers for any number of reasons. Women are wary of older men and younger men. Dominant men and passive men. Men. Many middle-aged women have concluded the best solution to loneliness is an animal.

What feline admirer wouldn’t want a real cougar if she had the space and if wild animals weren’t so unpredictable? I can imagine living far out in the country with a big cat allowed to come and go, not expecting it to be as docile as my housecats—but even such an arrangement isn’t workable. Wild animals are truly wild.

There was a study done by a Russian scientist, Dmitri Belyaev, beginning in the 1950’s. He captured a number of silver foxes and bred them, keeping only the pups that showed no fear of humans (a small minority). After many generations—different sources cite different numbers—he had foxes as tame as dogs. What if someone did that with cougars, ending up with an animal with the relative tameness of a housecat? It would still be dangerous. You know how wicked your dear kitty, not to mention my sister’s beautiful psycho cat Bradley, can be on occasion. Still, such a creature would be a possible companion for the careful, steady, outdoorswoman.

The few times, in my 40’s, that I slept with much younger men, I enjoyed them for the usual things—their smooth skin, their sweet breath, their different outlook, their high spirits—and I wouldn’t rule out a relationship with one, should I ever again dare to engage in a love affair.

But from my recent immersion in contemporary romance novels, I can tell you what women really want: a shapeshifting cougar (or leopard or tiger). Picture it. A woman in a sleeveless white cotton nightgown, long hair loose on her pillow. The big cat enters through the open window, landing on the bed, and looks at her with those alien, golden eyes.

Cat breath, fang. The moonlight glimmering in his fur. Big paws on either side of her head. Then that moment of transformation, which in my fantasy is not brutal, but happens as quickly as a dream changes scenery. The animal above me, the man in my arms. A real human, who can laugh and talk politics, bring me coffee the next morning.

Somebody figures out how to breed those? With no females of their own species? Men would just have to pack their bags and go.

For some really stunning photos of cougars look here

To see me being silly with my silly cats, look here

The Mountain Lion

Climbing through the January snow, into the Lobo canyon
Dark grow the spruce-trees, blue is the balsam, water sounds
still unfrozen, and the trail is still evident.

Men!
Two men!
Men! The only animal in the world to fear!

They hesitate.
We hesitate.
They have a gun.
We have no gun.

Then we all advance, to meet.

Two Mexicans, strangers, emerging out of tile dark and snow
and inwardness of the Lobo valley.
What are you doing here on this vanishing trail’?

What is he carrying?
Something yellow.
A deer?

Que tiene, amigo?
Leon –
He smiles, foolishly, as if he were caught doing wrong.
And we smile, foolishly, as if we didn’t know.
He is quite gentle and dark-faced.

It is a mountain lion,
A long, long slim cat, yellow like a lioness.
Dead.
He trapped her this morning, he says, smiling foolishly.

Lift up her face,
Her round, bright face, bright as frost.
Her round, fine-fashioned head, with two dead ears;
And stripes in the brilliant frost of her face, sharp, fine dark rays,
Dark, keen, fine eyes in the brilliant frost of her face.
Beautiful dead eyes.

Hermoso es!

They go out towards the open;
We go on into the gloom of Lobo.
And above the trees I found her lair,
A hole in the blood-orange brilliant rocks that stick up, a little cave,
And bones, and twigs, and a perilous ascent.

So, she will never leap up that way again, with the yellow
flash of a mountain lion’s long shoot!
And her bright striped frost-face will never watch any more,
out of the shadow of the cave in the blood-orange rock,
Above the trees of the Lobo dark valley-mouth!

Instead, I look out.
And out to the dim of the desert, like a dream, never real;
To the snow of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the ice of
the mountains of Picoris,
And near across at the opposite steep of snow, green trees
motionless standing in snow, like a Christmas toy.

And I think in this empty world there was room for me and
a mountain lion.
And I think in the world beyond, how easily we might spare
a million or two of humans
And never miss them.
Yet what a gap in the world, the missing white frost-face of
that slim yellow mountain lion!

–D.H. Lawrence

bradleyBradley


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What Women Want, Part II

January 26, 2009 § Leave a comment

One of the scientists in the New York Times Magazine article on female desire, Dr. Marta Meana, citing research that women are, on average, less lustful than men, theorizes that it takes more to kickstart a woman’s desire. This goes some way toward explaining why women have such frequent fantasies of sex with strangers and of rape—the latter being in the class of “only fantasy” (we hope), while the former is often acted out.

One can interpret these fantasies in many ways, and the interpretations differ from woman to woman. But what strikes me as incomplete about this idea is that while male lust on the physical level is more demanding and constant (married men retain their desire for marital sex longer than their wives do), male desire and fantasy is every bit as novelty-and-thrill-seeking as women’s. So if you explain women’s fantasies as compensation for a lower or fluctuating sex drive, what do you make of all the bizarre male porn?

I would say that desire by nature tends toward the extreme because it’s always constrained by reality. Most of what turns us on we can’t have, or won’t do, or wouldn’t like if it were done to us. How is this different from the rest of a person’s daydreaming? I want an impossible amount of recognition and well-being; I mentally murder my loved ones often; when I have insomnia I imagine terrible disasters far away, a practice that works to draw off the catastrophe demon, keep it from summoning my real fears.

The first time I went on Zoloft, I was driving my car alone in the country, in a state of calm euphoria, when I saw children playing by the side of the road up ahead. I had a sudden impulse to run them over, imagining the crunch under the wheels as being pleasurable in the same way stepping on a dry twig is.

I resisted the impulse without difficulty but kept thinking about it, as I drove on—specifically about why I couldn’t act on it. What was strange was that while I could imagine vividly the negative consequences to me should I do such a thing, and I understood that killing was ‘wrong’, I couldn’t feel that wrongness; the concept was empty; I was taking it on faith. I was, for that period of time, phantom-sociopathic. Only the fact that I remembered my previous self and was aware of this one as somehow ‘not me’ kept me not only safe but sane.

I told my sister this story and she said, matter-of-factly, “I know what you mean. Sometimes when I’m chopping vegetables and the children’s hands are spread out on the counter I have a desire to chop off their fingers. Not because I’m feeling hostile; it just seems like it would be satisfying.”

My boyfriend Philip is creeped out by these stories, and quick to see them as being somehow confined to my family. I think these things lie around in everybody’s psyche, like the most grotesque sexual fantasy you will never admit to. On the other hand, I’m put off by his tales of daily in-your-face male insult and challenge, what is sometimes banter and sometimes humiliation but for him simply part of the human spectrum. He takes for granted that men have all those macho qualities that, at 15, reading second-wave feminist literature, I thought brutal and anachronistic, soon to  be swept away. More than taking them for granted, he sees the artistry in them, and though I can’t yet see themthe way he does, I’ve learned to trust his feeling for artistry.

I guess my point is that desire has evolutionary, survive-and-propagate roots, but for a long time now it has been riffing on itself. It evades or overflows categories, finds a way out, in or around; what it’s exists to ‘do’ and ‘why’ is no longer entirely relevant. How can we tell what’s the score and what’s the improv?

Imagine the day when computers finally become sentient. Maybe this excites you; maybe you’re afraid. The one thing you don’t think is that consciousness will simply help them do the job better. If you’re human, you know being aware of yourself as a separate being is dangerous.

This has been a long post. You are now excused to your own fantasies. I’m in the mood for tea and chocolate chip cookies. I baked them for Philip but he made me bring them home. I’m glad. I like the silky pleasure of my own apartment, my poetry books, my thoughts up in the corners and my cookies.
photo31 Some books I love

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